'Israeli FBI' launched to tackle crime

"Lahav 443" tasked with fighting organized crime, corruption; Lahav chief: Key word is "intimidation."

Danino 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Danino 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
After months of discussion and planning, the Israel Police officially established on the first day of 2008 a new unit - nicknamed the "Israeli FBI" - and revealed its official name: Lahav (blade) 433. The unit, under the command of Cmdr. Yoav Segelovich, got off to a festive start Tuesday, with a ceremony attended by Israel Police chief Insp.-Gen. David Cohen, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and State Attorney Moshe Lador. Dichter offered the comic relief of the morning, warning that he would have to approve hiring an additional dentist in the police force, as police would "break their teeth" trying to get out the relatively long unit name. But verbally challenging or not, the name, said police Tuesday, says a lot about the new unit. The word "blade," police said, signified the sharpness and precision needed to carry out the unit's tough assignment - fighting organized crime and corruption at an institutional level. The "four" signifies the four specialist investigative units integrated within its auspices - the National Fraud Squad, the Security-Economic Unit, the Serious and International Crimes Unit, and the anti-car-theft unit, Etgar - while the "33" gives credit to the elite "Gidonim" (Unit 33) which will become the field-savvy operative arm of the new unit. Segelovich said the unit would seek to combat what he described as a "mood" that "violation of law has become the norm," as well as addressing the specific problems of corruption and organized crime. "Clearly, organized crime is widespread and threatens the stability of the government and the economy." "Without exaggerating, we can now describe corruption as a strategic threat," said Cmdr. Yochanan Danino, head of Israel Police's Investigations and Intelligence Division, of which Lahav is now a part. But perhaps the most satisfied member of the force was none other than Cohen himself, who described the establishment of the unit as "the fulfillment of a three-year-long dream" that he has cherished. As the first high-profile reform of his tenure as police chief, Cohen played up the unit's establishment, describing it as "a unit with national significance." "This unit is [a] sharpening [of] teeth in the struggle against public corruption," said Cohen. "In the past, there were those who sought to weaken the national units in order to prevent them from pursuing such corruption." Even as police top brass talked tough against crime and corruption in Modi'in, not far away in a Tel Aviv courtroom one of the most high-profile crime lords in Israel came quite close to spending the night in his own bed, despite being suspected of ordering a hit on an underworld rival last week. Ya'akov Alperon, suspected of putting out a contract on Rafi Ohanina, was released by the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court despite a police request to extend his remand. Only after district attorneys, working with the Tel Aviv Central Investigative Unit, submitted an urgent afternoon appeal to the district court was the ruling overturned, and Alperon was remanded to another four days behind bars. The crime organization allegedly led by Alperon is almost certainly the focus of one of the six 13-member task forces established within the Lahav unit to take on entire crime syndicates. The task forces, consisting of three prosecutors, two representatives of the Israel Tax Authority and eight police officers, will each be assigned to a specific crime organization, but police have remained close-lipped as to which organizations they will target first.